TFC shopping around defender Gregory van der Wiel

Soccer insider James Sharman joins the Starting Lineup to discuss why TFC's Gregory van der Wiel signing was a disaster from the get-go, and why they're better off without him going forward.

TORONTO – It appears as though Gregory van der Wiel’s days as a member of Toronto FC are over.

A TFC official confirmed to Sportsnet that the Dutch defender was sent back home to Toronto by the club from its pre-season training camp in California on Wednesday evening. The official also told Sportsnet that TFC is “working with van der Wiel and his agent to explore opportunities in and outside of MLS.”

Translation: TFC is looking to trade or sell the Dutchman to another team.

“He’s a good player, but not the right fit for us,” the official said.

The same official didn’t give any further details as to why van der Wiel was sent back to Toronto from California, or why the club is attempting to offload the Dutchman. Sources told Sportsnet there was a recent altercation at the California training camp involving van der Wiel and TFC coach Greg Vanney.

The club official did concede that van der Wiel, in all likelihood, won’t be back with the Reds for the 2019 MLS season.

“The intention is to find him a new team,” the official said.

Late Wednesday night, van der Wiel posted a message on his Instagram account, stating: “Year one [with TFC] had ups and downs but I found my joy back and I could not wait to get started this new season. I was ready to give it all. Unfortunately year two will never come due to differences with the coaching staff. I just want to win and do that no matter what the consequences are. I guess that mentality was a little too much for them and they decided they do not need me for this season.”

News of van der Wiel’s pending departure comes on the heels of TFC selling playmaking midfielder Victor Vazquez to Qatari club Al-Arabi last week, and trading central defender Nick Hagglund to expansion side FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.

Van der Wiel, 30, came to MLS last February after being sold to TFC by Italian club Cagliari. He was a direct replacement for Steven Beitashour, who left as a free agent to sign with LAFC after helping the Reds win the 2017 MLS Cup.

A product of Ajax’s youth academy, van der Wiel went on to play for the famous Dutch side from 2007 to 2012. A four-year stint at Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 followed. From there, van der Wiel went to Fenerbahce, but things didn’t quite work out for him in Turkey and he left after only one season and signed with Cagliari.

Van der Wiel debuted for the Dutch national team in 2009, and was the Netherlands’ starting right-back in the 2010 World Cup final against Spain. He was also a major part of the Dutch team that competed at Euro 2012.

Considering van der Wiel’s pedigree, he was viewed by many as an upgrade on Beitashour. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Although he tallied four assists in 27 MLS matches last season (25 as a starter) and held his own at times, there were bouts of inconsistency from the Dutchman, as well as rumblings of personality clashes with teammates behind the scenes.

A player of van der Wiel’s reputation required TFC to spend Targeted Allocation Money on him. TAM is a special pot of money that all MLS clubs can use to buy top domestic and international talent – who are not at the designated player level – with a minimal salary cap hit. The Reds used TAM to sign Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez prior to the 2017 MLS season.

According to the players’ union website, van der Wiel’s total compensation for the 2018 season was US$835,000, which made him the sixth-highest paid player on the team.

From the outside looking in, it appears as though TFC either didn’t vet van der Wiel properly, or they felt his previous problems were behind him. The Dutch defender’s time in Serie A was short – he spent six months there, as he fell out of favour after Cagliari changed coaches, and he ended up making only a handful of appearances. Before that, he had a troubled tenure at Turkish club Fenerbahce where he had financial issues.

Regardless, new TFC general manager Ali Curtis, hired last month to replace Tim Bezbatchenko who left to become club president of the Columbus Crew, has some work to do before the MLS regular season begins.

Curtis must find a replacement for Vazquez in midfield, and strengthen the back line now that both Hagglund and van der Wiel are gone.

Toronto FC is currently in California for pre-season training camp. The Reds will then play Club Atletico Independiente in the round of 16 of the 2019 Concacaf Champions League, with the first leg scheduled for Feb. 19 in Panama and the return match a week later at BMO Field.

Toronto opens the 2019 MLS regular season on the road against the Philadelphia Union on March 2. Its home opener comes on March 17 vs. the New England Revolution.

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